When I talk to state and local leaders, they say they’re pleased by what a broadband network can do in our homes, schools and businesses. But increasingly, the place where experts and leaders are most excited about broadband technology for rural America is at the doctor’s office.
The American Telemedicine Association defines “telehealth” a “the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology.” It’s no overstatement to say that it can revolutionize health care across our country.
And since telehealth requires high-speed broadband, we’re excited to be in the middle of that revolution.
As you’ll read in the pages of this issue, telehealth is already helping doctors deliver improved care to patients on cases ranging from stroke to mental health. It’s helping sick people eliminate trips to the emergency room. It may even encourage doctors to come to rural clinics and hospitals.
Based on studies, telehealth is already improving patient outcomes and satisfaction while also reducing costs and increasing efficiency for health care providers.
Because of broadband technology, local residents can work with their physicians to connect with specialists around the country via virtual visits and consultations. Eliminating the hurdle of traveling to big-city hospitals has proven to make patients more likely to seek care when they need it, which translates into faster and more complete recoveries.
Telehealth can also increase the pace of care when minutes and seconds matter. Whether it’s giving a stroke patient an immediate evaluation by a specialist or enabling a regional radiologist to read the X-ray of a broken arm in the middle of the night, health care providers canuse technology to eliminate dangerous delays. Tapping into a regional telehealth network of experts over broadband could mean that patients don’t have to wait for help from local medical professionals who may not have the expertise or simply can’t be everywhere at once.
I find, however, that when explaining what telehealth is, it’s also important to discuss what it’s not. In my view, telehealth should not be a way to replace local physicians with robots or with doctors a patient never meets in person. Telehealth should be an essential tool and an important resource for your doctor to use in the care of his or her patients.
When we say our mission at NCTC is to improve the lives of the people in our service area, I can’t think of a better way to do that than by working with talented doctors and nurses to help local residents live longer and healthier lives.
As we’ve built and improved our network, we’re happy for the convenience and entertainment it provides. But it is health care — along with economic development and educational opportunities — that drives us to invest the millions of dollars required to build a modern communications network in our rural area.